In this guide, we look at UKVI’s sponsor licence rating system, including what it means for an organisation to have an A-rated sponsor licence. We also look at the consequences of being downgraded to a B-rating and how to reinstate an A-rating.
What is an A-rated sponsor licence?
For routes other than UK Expansion Worker, a sponsor licence will be rated either ‘A’ or ‘B’.
An A rating will be awarded when you are granted a licence, provided you have adequate systems in place to meet your sponsor duties and are trusted to act in a way appropriate to those licensed by UKVI. You will not be granted a licence if you are not able to achieve an A rating. Further, after your licence has been approved, UKVI may downgrade you to a B rating if you fail to discharge your sponsor duties or UKVI has other concerns about you.
For sponsors on the UK Expansion Worker route, where the Authorising Officer (AO) is an employee of the overseas business and will be assigning their own Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to apply for entry clearance to the UK, you will initially be given a Provisional rating and allocated just one CoS to be assigned in the AO’s name. Your AO can upgrade to an A rating, and request additional CoS using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS), once they have been granted a visa and updated their details via the SMS.
What does an A rating mean for the sponsor?
Your licence rating will appear on the published online register of licensed sponsors. This document lists ‘Worker’ and ‘Temporary Worker’ sponsors, with information about the category of workers they are licensed to sponsor and their sponsorship rating.
As an A rated sponsor, you will be able to assign CoS to new migrant workers on the route(s) for which you are licensed to sponsor. This will enable each recruit to apply for a suitable work visa. Under an A rating sponsor licence, you will also be able to assign CoS to existing migrant workers looking to stay longer in the UK and continue working for you.
You must normally be an A rated sponsor to be eligible to assign CoS, with only limited exceptions to this rule. This could be where you have a Provisional rating on the UK Expansion Worker route and the person to whom the CoS is assigned is also your AO. It could also be where you have a B rating sponsor licence and the worker (provided this is not a Scale-up Worker) is applying for permission to stay on the same route as in their last grant of leave, in circumstances where you assigned the CoS which led to their previous grant of leave and you are continuing to sponsor the worker in question.
What is a B-rated sponsor licence?
Being a UK sponsor comes with significant responsibility, including various duties that must be discharged to comply with the rules and keep your A rating sponsor licence intact. This is because if you are found to be in breach of the rules, enforcement action can be taken against you by UKVI for non-compliance, including downgrading your licence to a B rating.
Throughout the validity period of your licence, UKVI will rate you as either A or B, according to its ongoing assessment of your ability to comply with your sponsor duties and to act in an appropriate way as a licence holder. An assessment could be made as part of an onsite or digital compliance check, taken on the basis of a reasonable suspicion that you have breached your sponsor duties or are otherwise no longer suitable to hold a licence. An assessment may also be triggered by checks with other government agencies, including HMRC, or any other information that may come to light, for example, when considering applications from sponsored workers or through allegations from members of the public.
If you have failed to discharge your sponsor duties or are found not to be acting in a way conducive to those licensed by UKVI, you may be downgraded to a B rating. As a B rated sponsor, you will need to comply with (and pay a fee for) a time-limited action plan, drafted by the Home Office with the steps you need to take to regain an A rating. If you do not meet the steps set out in your action plan, and do so within the specified time limit, your licence may be revoked.
If you are licensed on multiple routes, you will be given a rating for each type of licence. That rating will apply to all routes in which you are licensed that are covered by that type of licence, where you cannot have different ratings for individual routes. For example, if you are licensed under Skilled Worker and Senior or Specialist Worker, both of which are ‘Worker’ routes, and UKVI downgrade you due to failings in respect of only one of those routes, your licence rating will show on the register as ‘Worker (B rating)’. Equally, if you are licensed under Creative Worker and Charity Worker, both of which are ‘Temporary Worker’ routes, and UKVI downgrade you due to failings in respect of only one of those routes, your licence rating will show on the register as ‘Temporary Worker (B rating)’.
If you are downgraded to a B rating sponsor licence, you can continue to assign CoS to existing workers, enabling you to keep your current migrant workforce intact. However, if your sponsor licence rating is not upgraded within the time permitted, you may lose your licence altogether, and with it the ability to retain any sponsored workers on your payroll.
Why are sponsor licences downgraded?
There are various reasons why a sponsor licence may be downgraded. However, in broad terms, if UKVI believes that you no longer have the necessary processes or people in place to comply with your sponsor duties, typically following a post-licence compliance visit or other compliance checks, your A rating sponsor licence may be downgraded to a B rating.
If UKVI conducts a compliance check on you after your licence has been granted, they will judge you against a number of criteria to decide whether to allow you to keep your licence or what other enforcement action to take, including downgrading your licence rating.
For each of the following criterion, they will give you a score of either ‘met’ or ‘not met’:
- human resources systems: whether you have adequate systems in place that allow you to know when a sponsored worker has not turned up for work or to identify when their current permission is coming to an end
- convictions and civil penalties: whether or not you have any unspent criminal convictions for a relevant offence or have been issued with a relevant civil penalty, where UKVI will be looking for any recent convictions following the grant of your sponsor licence
- migrant compliance: whether you are employing any workers, sponsored or not, who are in breach of the conditions of their immigration permission, for example, a Student who is working more hours than they are allowed to under their conditions of stay
- employment: whether you can offer employment which meets the criteria for the relevant immigration route, such as genuine vacancy, salary and skill-level.
A downgrade decision can also be made where UKVI has asked for information held by your organisation, but you have failed to comply with that request, or you have otherwise failed to co-operate with UKVI as required under your duties as a sponsor licence holder.
Generally speaking, a decision to downgrade and put in place a sponsorship action plan will only be made to address fairly minor breaches of duty or non-compliance. For more serious breaches, such as the commission of a serious criminal offence, or a serious violation of the immigration rules, this can result in licence suspension or immediate revocation.
How can you upgrade a downgraded licence?
If a decision is made by UKVI to downgrade your A rating sponsor licence to a B rating, you will be required to pay for and follow an action plan to restore your rating. UKVI will write to you to explain what action is proposed, and the reasons for this, giving you 20 working days from the date of that letter to respond in writing, together with any evidence. UKVI will consider any written representations, but you will not be offered an oral hearing.
If a decision is made by UKVI to proceed with your sponsor licence downgrade, you will be sent a request for payment of £1,476 to cover the cost of the action plan. You cannot be forced to pay the fee, nor to comply with the action plan, but if the fee is not paid within 10 working days, your sponsor licence will be revoked. If you choose to accept the action plan, the fee must be paid using the ‘Action plan details’ function in your SMS account.
Having paid the action plan fee, you will be given a period of 3 months to comply with the action plan and make the necessary improvements to ensure that your licence rating is reinstated. This could include, for example, improving control over staff who assign CoS, improving communication between different branches so it is clear when a sponsored worker has not turned up for work, or making improvements to your record-keeping.
At the end of the 3-month period, UKVI will conduct a further compliance check to establish whether you have met all of the measures as set out under the action plan. At this stage, provided you have made the necessary recommended improvements and UKVI has no further concerns, you will once again have an A rating sponsor licence.
It is essential that you comply with the action plan to avoid your licence being revoked. It is also worth bearing in mind that if UKVI identify other areas of concern, you may be asked to comply with a second action plan, for which you must pay an additional fee. If these additional areas of concern are serious, there is also a risk that your licence will be revoked.
How can you avoid a sponsor licence downgrade?
There are various duties associated with sponsoring migrant workers, where it is essential that those within your organisation responsible for managing the sponsorship process understand what is required of them to avoid an A rating sponsor licence downgrade.
These duties include reporting any changes in a migrant worker’s circumstances, such as where they have failed to start the role for which they are being sponsored or are absent from work without your permission. You must also report any changes to the key personnel tasked with monitoring the migrant workforce, as well as changes to the organisation itself. In addition to the sponsor’s reporting duties, there are right to work checks that must be correctly conducted and record-keeping duties that must be complied with at all times.
Providing sponsorship training for key personnel can be an effective way of ensuring that your AO, Key Contact and SMS-users know exactly what is required of them. You should also secure expert advice from an immigration specialist in the event of any uncertainty, and especially if you have been notified of an UKVI compliance visit or compliance concerns. You can then take steps to ensure that your HR systems and recruitment practices are in order to help minimise the prospect of being penalised for inadequate processes.
As a sponsor licence holder, you can only be downgraded twice during the validity period of your licence, which would usually be granted for 4 years, where three strikes would result in licence revocation. You would be able to reapply for a licence, but you would need to wait at least a 12 months before being eligible to do so. There would also be no guarantee that your application would be approved, where UKVI would again need to be satisfied that you have adequate systems in place to meet your sponsor duties and are trusted to act in a way appropriate to those licensed by UKVI to sponsor migrant workers.
A rating sponsor licence FAQs
How do you become A-rated sponsor in the UK?
You will become an A-rated sponsor in the UK having successfully applied for a licence to sponsor any category of migrant worker, except on the UK Expansion Worker route, which may be granted with a Provisional rating before being up-rated.
What rating is a sponsorship license in the UK?
With the exception of sponsor licences on the UK Expansion Worker route, where the licence will initially be granted with a Provisional rating if the Authorising Officer is based overseas, all licences will be granted with an A rating.
Is it hard to get sponsorship licence UK?
Applying for a sponsorship licence can be challenging, not least when it comes to showing that you are capable of carrying out your sponsor duties, including having suitable HR systems and recruitment practices in place to manage the sponsorship process.
Last updated: 12 September 2023